Contraband Tapes, Being Yourself, Top Hats and Eating Volcanos: 10 Questions w/ Mess Xiang of Kick Ass
I love all kinds of music but my heart and soul belong to Hard Rock.. give me AC/DC, Deep Purple, Aerosmith, Motley Crue any day of the week and I’ll be content. As of late, after too much time devoted to indie/punk/what not, there has been a bit of a hard rock revival in Beijing with Kick Ass being one of the pack leaders.
I’ve had the privilege of knowing founder and uber guitar player, Mess Xiang, for a while now and I finally had a chance to pick his brain about life, the band, and music in general.
It’s a long interview but worth every minute you spend reading it… I’d have never thought someone in China would be listening to a band like Faster Pussycat or the sort…. Enjoy!
1- Who is Mess and what’s going on in your world?
Ah, firstly thanks a lot buddy for this interview. In Beijing music scene, Mess is a guitar player and that’s all about him. In ordinary life I’m a graphic/Flash designer and user experience engineer, focusing on websites and software. Also I wrote 2 books, translated 4 books in web usability fields. In short, an IT guy but not a geek. Someone might say I’m not exactly a rocker because I have my regular life, not drunk every day in alcohol and weeds, not changing chicks every night. But I think I’m OK. We are living in China not Hollywood after all. The reason I form the KICK ASS band is not to be a super star, we just wanna have fun, create music and perform on stages (with beers and cigarettes, I wish).
2- First time we met was a KTV almost 2 years ago singing Iron Maiden & GnR songs.. is that the kinda of music that influenced you? What’s your favorite guitar player, Chinese and Foreigner.
Definitely yes. R N’ R came into my life when I was in junior high in my hometown, with bootlegs and contraband cassette tapes. It was 90s in China so we could find tons of 80s classic rock tapes lying in a heap on each stall. Those vendors didn’t know any shit about R N’ R at first, so the tapes are pretty cheap, you could get three tapes for 10 RMB, sometimes four. But you know what tapes are they? Poison, G N’ R, Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Genesis, Police and Queen. Of course there were second or third level bands such as Faster Pussycat, Saigon Kick, Bulletboys, Noisy Mama and others. I saved my lunch money to buy them.
The tapes are contraband so they’re all cut by something so broken, but not damaged. The first thing when I got home was to find out my little screwdriver and scotch tape to fix them, then played with my Walkman. Those bands are my R N’ R enlightenment and they influenced me in my whole life. Unfortunately later vendors got more familiar with bands so they raised the price to 50 – 100 RMB for some bands so crap! Then I turned to the mp3s.
I still remember I bought ‘seventh son of a seventh son’ of Iron Maiden accidentally since the Eddie cover and tried to figure out why they could express a horror tale feeling in music. From that tape I got know some European bands like King Diamond and Mercyful Fate. Well another thing should be mentioned is that once time I heard a collection tape and the singer in one song caught my ears – what a strange and magnetic voice – it was Axl Rose in ‘Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door’. Oh God. Then I was crazy for G N’ R.
Oops I was a little too chatty on this subject.
My favorite guitar player obviously is Slash. I admit there’re too many people like Slash it seems like I’m a little vulgar… But I’m still proud to say aloud that he is the guitar GOD to me. Maybe he’s not the fastest and most technical guitar player in the world but he is so good at writing riffs and solos, and full of emotion and personality. His latest album ‘Slash’ shows his talent in different style with different artists like Ozzy, Lemmy, Iggy Pop even Fergie from Black Eyed Peas.
To be honest I don’t have a favorite domestic guitar player in China. Definitely there’re many great Chinese guitar players… but none of them could touch me deeply into my heart… If I have to say someone, Li YanLiang (李延亮) in his Overload period (not currently I mean) is on my top list. The second one might be Xiao Han, the lead guitar player of KICK ASS… it’s not a joke, he’s really brilliant.
3-You’ve been in bands for years now, mostly playing festivals but with Kick Ass, you’re actually becoming a regular on the gig circuit. What makes this band different?
Yeah I keep playing guitar for several bands such as SmartKin, Today and Zuo Bin band. Most of them are my close friends and they are short of players so… Sometimes I have to stand on the same stage for three bands performance at the same night. Actually I’m not a versatile guitar player, sometimes I just play the same as their demos or CDs sound. It’s great experience when performing in festivals of course, especially with Zuo Bin, who is very stylish and whose popularity is rising.
But yeah, KICK ASS is totally different. First of all, this band plays the exact music I love, just pure hard rock. I formed the band with Xiao Han, the lead guitar player and main song-writer of KICK ASS, and then I found our singer. I arrange the band’s schedule, kept seeking opportunities to perform at first and keep in touch with ‘outside’ of the band. Also I write lyrics of every song. In some ways it’s my OWN band and I put my real heart on it. I want to see it’s getting better and better.
4- you’ve been called “a Straight-Haired Slash” a few times due to your playing style and that top hat.. How do you feel about that?
Oh lol I bought the top hat on the internet for 15 RMB… It’s a second-hand and cheap stuff but it’s funny, and I looks pretty good when I wearing it. The first time I got on stage wearing the top hat is only to pay tribute to Slash, and I found it’s cool and much fun, so I kept wearing it. The good thing is this top-hat image visualizes our band in some way, audience could remember us. On the other hand, I don’t want to be Slash II and KICK ASS doesn’t want to be, quote from Beijingdaze, a dive bar’s Velvet Revolver. We are nobody but ourselves. So to sum up, instead of being called the ‘Straight-Haired Slash’ I prefer to be called just Mess. But someday I’ll still wear that top hat just because I like it. iiii|B^D
5- Kick Ass was one of the finalists of this year’s GBoB in Beijing. how was the experience?
It was great. GBOB is an international competition, I’ve got some friends such as Chris B who is a beautiful and warm-hearted lady and we‘re honored to be in GBOB Beijing Final. One great thing is not like competitions sponsored by our domestic companies, GBOB plays pretty fair and square. There’s no dark inside stories, all you have to do is just perform well and there’ll be a chance. Unfortunately we didn’t make it to Hong Kong, which is OK, cause we just had come together for couple of weeks at that time.
6- Describe Kick Ass’ Musical direction.
KICK ASS is a Hard Rock band and will keep the current style. Technically we are riffs-oriented hard rock (like Skid Row), which means we create several riffs then we put them together. Sometimes you can find out a little scent of Thrash Metal from our music (but not too much). Our next step is making a ballad song, we’ve gathered some ideas already. As I said before, KICK ASS ain’t no big star, it’s an underground band and I hope it’ll always be. We just want to enjoy the smoke, alcohol and R N’ R, and kick nerds’ asses.
7- Word Association. For each one of these words, write the first thing that comes to your mind:
* Beijing I moved to Beijing in 2006. It seems like I made a right choice.
* Shanghai …SB?
* Slash Well he looks a little chubby now but keeps the same style. What’s wrong with his current curls hair (are you aware that)?
* Cui Jian The first R N’ R political fighter in Red China. We should respect him.
* Metal Metal is great, but not too extreme please 😀
* Helen Feng HOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOT!
* Polka Dots What’s this.
8- You’re a veteran of the Beijing music scene in many ways having gone through different bands, record deals, underground etc.. How do you see the scene growing? are things looking better or is it the same shit as before?
No doubt it’s developing. Due to the decline of the music recording publishing industry, bands especially Chinese bands can hardly get satisfied or earn money from albums… Fortunately there’re tons of gigs and concerts in Beijing and this keep bands alive. Another thing makes me very excited is that I see more and more Hard Rock bands sticking out their heads from their nasty lairs this year. Bands like Los Crasher, Jacky Danny, Ricky Sixx, Velvet Road and KICK ASS are doing great gigs and very united.
9- People are talking about Generation 6 bands, Generation 7 etc… any of them actually catch your attention as doing something interesting musically?
To me there’re only 2 generations. Generation 1, which I listen to them; and Generation 2, which I join them.
10- You might be skinny but you gotta eat lots to keep up that energy. What’s your favorite restaurant in Beijing?
There’s a Chinese Fast food restaurant named YIPPIN (一品三笑) and I’m crazy for their Spicy Chicken Rice (劲辣鸡饭). It’s really spicy like you are eating a volcano but I just can’t control myself. And it’s cheap (9 RMB). Another restaurant I love is Ganges India Food at WuDaoKou (五道口).
I love this interview because it puts so many things in perspective.. Mess’ influences and mine are strangely overlapping. I was basically buying those same tapes in Morocco and France during the early 1990’s. It’s that generation that can appreciate socially-relevant music but also let our hair down and rock out just for the sake of rocking out. For those about to Rock, I salute you